Earlier this week, I inadvertently (advertently?) stepped into the vaccine debate landmine on Facebook. I baited my friends’ list to see if I had an anti-vaxxers lurking, only to discover that I, indeed, did have at least one friend who is anti-vaccine.
Now, I’m sure I don’t agree with 100% of my friends on 100% of major topics, but generally speaking my friends are pro-science, pro-public health, pro-choice, and pro-equality so I don’t have to vehemently disagree with them on things I feel strongly about. What I discovered, though, was a need to be more introspective about respectfully, but passionately debating. Especially when someone who I otherwise respect has a contrary opinion on something I don’t think ANYONE should have a contrary opinion about.
It reminded me of an experience I had my sophomore year in college. The school decided to start a public access TV channel, and one of their first ideas was to host a “Crossfire”-style debate series. And for kicks, they launched the program with a debate on same sex marriage. On one side of the table was the president of the local chapter of the Young Republicans and the leader of the campus Newman Society (who also happened to be my freshmen year roommate). On the other side of the table was my friend Chaz (an upperclass poli sci major and the show’s only homosexual) and myself (a theatre major? Not really sure what my credentials were other than being an ally who could speak in public).
We were tasked with debating the merits of same sex marriage, most of which went like this: “Equal rights, survivor benefits, more two-parent households, government recognition, common sense, common sense, common sense.” And the opposing argument was “Bible, Bible Bible. Well, then why don’t we just let convicted pedophiles marry little boys and grown women marry dogs.” Chaz and I did our best to respond to every obnoxious question with a reasoned answer, but I distinctly recall being completely sans response when my former roommate (and then Resident Advisor) suggested that gay marriage was the same as letting people marry inanimate objects.
Now, all I wanted to do at that moment was tear into this girl with a round of “Are you fucking kidding me, you ignorant bigot?! I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian! I ALSO can’t believe that you and I are attending the same school and that somehow you managed to talk yourself into a top tier liberal arts college when you can’t see the difference between a TREE and a HUMAN BEING, you righteous moron!?” BUT… I didn’t because she was living with my best friend at the time, she was my next door neighbor, and I’ve never experienced ANYONE changing their mind about ANYTHING when they’re being attacked. If my end goal was to somehow convince a single-minded person like her that her opinion on an important matter was misguided, it wasn’t going to be by screaming at her.
So, back to present day. I’ve opened up a can of worms on Facebook and I have a friend who is being bombarded with pro-vaccine facts. And more than a few personal jabs from complete strangers. And while I wholeheartedly agree with the pro-vaccine group, I know it’s not going to do a lick of good at convincing my anti-vaccine friend to change her mind. I think that’s a shame, but I’m not in this life to convince everyone to come around to my way of thinking.
But my anti-vaccine friend made the comment “No matter what, neither of us is going to convince the other of anything so it’s a wasted effort,” and she’s totally right. If there is anything social media, regular ol’ media, and Congress has taught me, it’s that once most people formulate an opinion – whether it’s backed up by good, factual information or not – they’re sticking with it. There are, however, three pieces of good news:
1. I think some of my Facebook friends who followed along with that discussion actually learned something.
2. The people who were pro-vaccine spanned a WIDE spectrum of political beliefs. I saw “Likes” from people who I definitely don’t agree with anything else about, so here’s a tip for all you politicians out there. If you want to find a bipartisan issue that both sides can agree about, it’s VACCINES.
3. My anti-vaccine friend was greatly outnumbered. Which is what we call herd-immunity against bad ideas.
Now, I’m not here to bust this debate wide open again (there IS no debate, anyway. Vaccinate your goddamn kids, people.) But what I AM doing is donating $10 to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and their Vaccine Education Center. Because they clearly have a long road ahead of them still.